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9 Greatest Canadian Athletes Of All Time

by: Esteban On  Monday, October 14, 2013



Today is Canadian Thanksgiving, or, as they call it, “Thanksgiving.” While the Canadians have much to be thankful for, like a functioning government and tolerable crime and literacy rates, the nation largely lies in the shadow of its southern neighbor’s athletic output.

No longer. Let this list serve as enduring reminder of Canada’s contribution to sport, both domestic and international. May Canada’s song never die. (Don’t worry, we didn’t go TOO heavy on hockey players.)

9. Donovan Bailey

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We’ll see another sprinter of worse repute here shortly, so without ruining the surprise, let’s just say that Donovan Bailey was the first Canadian to legally break the 10-second 100m dash. While Bailey wasn’t the fastest out of the gate, he was able to achieve the highest top speed of any runner up that point at 27.07 mph. Bailey was born in Jamaica, but spent his adolescence in Canada, and ran in the Olympics for Canada, which makes him a Canadian athlete in my book.

8. Ferguson Jenkins

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In an era before baseball became a large-scale Canadian interest, Ferguson Jenkins went south, like a goose in winter, to the Chicago Cubs. Following his esteemed career, Jenkins became the first Canadian inducted into the baseball hall of fame, and if that wasn’t enough, HE PLAYED FOR THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS AS WELL. His 19-year career ended with a 3.34 ERA, 286 wins, a Cy Young Award, and three All-Star selections.

7. Nancy Greene

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Sometimes, not having a tropical climate can serve you well. Especially if you want to exceed in winter sports. As such, Canada has churned out numerous world class skiers, but perhaps none as iconic and important as Nancy Greene. She was instrumental in wrestling the skiing supremacy away from the Europeans and back to the New World, way back in the 60’s. She won two World Cups and an Olympic Gold Medal in giant slalom by one of the biggest margins in history. Not bad for a girl… who’s now a Canadian senator.

6. Gordie Howe

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We put off a hockey entry as long as we could. Until a certain player came along in the 80’s, Gordie Howe was widely regarded as the most lethal scorer in the history of the game. And he maintained that legacy during a career that lasted 25 years, a testament to Howe’s toughness. Most of Howe’s records have been eclipsed, but his legacy and longevity live on. How else would you justify the nickname “Mr. Hockey?”

5. Ben Johnson

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He might have been one of the most notorious steroid abusers this side of Barry Bonds, and that certainly tarnished his reputation among both his countrymen and the world, but he was FAST. In the 1988 Seoul summer games, Johnson won the 100 dash by besting his own world record with a time of 9.79. Of course, that record lasted a matter of days before his achievements were rescinded after testing positive for PEDs, or as we called them in those days, “steroids.” His fall from grace came so quickly after rise to fame that it’s almost as though his entire existence was rescinded. But he did compete, and though views on PEDs vary widely, he was the fastest man in the world, and that makes him a legend. Good, bad, or otherwise.

4. Steve Nash

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It’s looking pretty unlikely that Nash will ever hoist the O’Brien Trophy, with the Lakers being what they are, and Nash creeping up on 40-years old. However, he’s made an indelible impression on a game that’s rapidly becoming more and more internationally-minded. He may not have revolutionized the game, but the skill set and attitude he brought to an increasingly “me first” league garnered him two MVP awards and perennial playoff appearances in Dallas and Phoenix. He served as a team leader by running the floor and making his teammates look good, much to the joy of every clichéd high school basketball coach everywhere. He also slept with Nelly Furtado and Elizabeth Hurley, which is pretty awesome for a guy with such bad hair.

3. Bobby Orr

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In an effort to counteract the other two offensive-minded hockey players on this list, Gordie Howe and a fellow whose name rhymes with “Plain Jetski,” we’ve decided to mix things up with a defensive-minded player who excelled at just about everything. During his time with the Bruins and Blackhawks, Orr tallied up eight consecutive Norris trophies for Best Defenceman and three Hart Trophies as MVP. Further, he is the only defenseman to earn the Art Ross trophy for most points scored. He was at once the greatest defensive player and offensive player in the NHL, which would be like if Peyton Manning was also the best linebacker in the NFL. Mindblowing.

2. Lionel Conacher


Time for a history lesson, so pay attention. In the first half of the 20th century, Lionel Conacher was the best athlete in Canada. At pretty much everything. Imagine a more polite Jim Thorpe and you’ll get the idea. He won the Stanley Cup twice, he won the Grey Cup (Canadian Football) in 1921. He won a baseball championship somehow. And he also excelled and dominated in boxing, wrestling, and lacrosse. He might not be trending on Twitter, and anyone who saw him compete is probably very, very, very old, but in a different era, this guy was the best. And few athletes in any corner of the world found more cross-disciplinary success than Lionel Conacher.

1. Wayne Gretzky

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Surprised? Didn’t think so. The Great One is tantamount to Jesus, Moses, Jack Bauer, and Christian Grey to Canadians, and with good reason. He’s the greatest hockey player to ever lace up skates. He didn’t just break records, he demolished them in such a fashion that the next wave of players essentially just pitted themselves against Wayne Gretzky’s legacy, rather than decades of league history. In addition to being the leading scorer in NHL history, he was an unfailingly upright spokesman for the league. Hockey’s the most important sport in Canada. And Wayne Gretzky’s the greatest hockey player ever. And that’s that.